[Author's Note -- the name Paquette calls Jehan is Old French for "blond ruler" :) ]
Clopin heard an odd sound as he walked though the tunnel. It was the early evening of
Topsy Turvy Day, and Clopin had been wondering why he had not seen Jacques or Jehan in the Court. He had decided to go looking for the two in the tunnels when he heard the sounds.
An intruder? he wondered. That was exceedingly rare in this section of the catacombs, as the entrance was not a very pleasant one to use. Clopin kept his back as close to the wall as possible as he edged toward the source of the noise. He stopped short as he recognized it as a sobbing. A pitiful sniffle came from the small tunnel two feet ahead of him. In one impulsive move, he darted to the round portal and looked inside.
"Jehan, is that you?" he cried incredulously.
The grimy figure within let out a distressed squeak and drew farther back into the tunnel.
"Jehan," Clopin called more softly, "Don't be afraid. It is I, Clopin."
The small form threw itself at Clopin, hugging its arms around his neck so tightly as if it never wanted to let go. "Clo-pa. . .Clo-pa. . ." came the nearly incoherent babble.
Clopin held the terrified child tenderly, feeling as though he were holding a four-year-old instead of a boy of nine. "By the heavens, Jehan, what happened to you?" Clopin asked softly. The boy only sobbed unintelligibly. Clopin hugged him close and hurried back to the Court.
Clopin went straight to Paquette's tent. "Paquette! Paquette! Your son!"
"Which one?" was the absent reply. Paquette pushed aside the tent flap to let Clopin in -- and immediately she let out a cry as she saw the shape that Jehan was in. "My little Aubrey!" she shrieked.
Jehan whimpered and continued to cling to Clopin's neck. "Clo...pa..." the boy choked out.
"What happened to him?!" Paquette demanded, her brown eyes wide with anger as she stamped her foot at Clopin. "I knew he should not have gone to the festival today, I had a bad feeling all along!" Her glance was hard as she looked at Clopin. "I won't forgive you for this, Clopin!"
"Now, now, Paquette...I, uhm, I..." Clopin's voice trailed off and he stared at the ground. It was his fault, wasn't it...He realized...He had not made sure that Jehan got home safely...But what had happened? Paquette reached to take Jehan from Clopin. The boy accepted the exchange with a loud whining. Clopin looked uncomfortably to the ground, scuffing his shoe in the dirt, clasping his hands behind his back. Paquette hugged Jehan tight, murmuring, "Quiet, my little one, shhh-shh."
Clopin awkwardly cleared his throat, then stammered, "I, um, think I had better be going...now." He slipped out of the tent unnoticed, it seemed. He didn't understand what had happened. Usually any outrageous happenings at the Festival of Fools ended when he left...He had to find Jacques to learn what had happened.
He didn't have to search for long. Almost immediately he was nearly run down by a gypsy clad in red and blue. "Clopin!" the other man cried, as if startled to see him there.
Clopin regained his balance. "What is it?" he grumbled. "I have to find Jacques--"
"But that is it, Clopin! Jacques is..."
Clopin felt a sick feeling before any more was said. "No! Don't tell me!" he interupted. "Something bad happened, no?"
"Worse than that," the other said grimly.
"C-Can you take me to him?" Clopin asked in a quieted tone.
"No, Clopin. He is dead. They killed him..."
Clopin stared in disbelief. Then he swallowed hard. "They?...The soldiers...Frollo..?" Clopin growled the last word, his visage tightening to a scowl of fury.
"Cut his throat...with Jehan watching."
Clopin gasped. No wonder the boy was in that state! He quickly turned back to Paquette's tent and entered uninvited.
Paquette looked up at him, annoyed. "Are you here again?" she asked curtly. She was seated in a plain wooden chair, still cuddling Jehan, who was curled up against her, whimpering and sucking his thumb.
"I just found out what happened," Clopin replied breathlessly. He sank to his knees in front of her, the grief finally hitting him. "Jacques is dead...killed by the soldiers...Jehan witnessed it..."
Paquette clutched the little boy to her. "Oh, Aubrey," she gasped. A tear slid down her cheek. "Clopin," she mumbled, "What will we do without Jacques?"
Clopin patted her shoulder. "Don't worry about that. I am in full command now..." He faltered, "Although it will be hard without Jacques to advise me." He clenched his jaw before his voice could break.
Paquette looked up at him respectfully. "Seven years you have been king, yet with Jacques being the one giving the orders that were listened to. Now we shall see who listens with you as king alone."
"Clopin! News on the edict!" a lady's voice called out.
More on another specific arrest, Clopin thought with a sigh. He collapsed onto a low cloth-covered barrel meant to resemble a chair. Frollo is always after one specific person or another. Clopin suddenly remembered something and he frowned indignantly. Hau! Except me! A smirk played across his face.
"Clopin," the young gypsy woman appeared, breathing hard from running.
"Yes, I know, Franchesa, another arrest is to be made." The week had been hectic since Topsy Turvy Day. Clopin's little humiliation of the Minister of Justice had warranted the call for several arrests; yet not of the Gypsy King, which was beginning to make people wonder...and made Clopin uneasy.
"Not just any arrest," the young woman panted, holding her sides. She had come racing to the Court as soon as she had heard Frollo's latest decree.
Clopin immediately jumped up. "Mine?" he asked anxiously. What was Frollo getting at? Not issuing an order for arrest of the leader of the gypsies? Pure madness had to be the explanation, but Frollo was mad besides that.
Franchesa shook her head. "No."
Clopin sighed in disgust. "Whose, then?"
Clopin choked. "J-Jehan?! He is just a little boy!" He shook his head. "Aye, Frollo is completely daft now!" He started grumbling about the idiocy of arresting a mere child while ignoring a king.
"But, Clopin...they have caught everyone else that has been listed."
Clopin laughed. "A little boy! Does Frollo actually think he can catch the brat that easily? First, Jehan has not left Paquette's tent since Topsy Turvy Day. Second, he will not and cannot leave the Court. Third, he will never go above ground again unless someone brings him there."
"But there is more, Clopin. They are offering a reward..."
Clopin cried out loud in disbelief, then frowned. "How much?"
"Thirty pieces of silver."
Clopin stroked his beard thoughtfully. Franchesa punched his arm. He laughed. "Don't worry, my dear, I would never do that to my favorite foundling." His expression turned pensive. "No, no, I was thinking of who here would be treacherous enough to do something like that..." He clenched his jaw tightly. "And I can think of one person who would. I must talk to Paquette immediately!" With that he stormed off toward Paquette's tent.
When he reached the pink-and-lavendar structure, he paused instead of going right in. He called softly, "Paquette?"
"Clopin...come in," came the hesitant answer. He pushed back the tent flap and entered the dark room. Paquette was sitting on a stool next to a bed where a small motionless figure lay.
"How is he?" Clopin whispered.
Paquette bowed her head sadly. "He has not spoken a word since you brought him here." She looked ready to cry.
Clopin patted her shoulder tenderly. Then he looked to Jehan. The little boy was awake, and gazed back at him blankly. Only his head and bony shoulders were visible above the blanket. He looks thinner. Has he been eating? Clopin wondered. He will starve to death at this rate! He frowned sadly.
Then he put a hand on Paquette's arm and took her aside. "Have you heard of Frollo's latest order for arrest..?"
"Yours, Clopin?" she asked quietly.
"No," he said softly, shaking his head. His grip on her arm tightened. "They are after Jehan."
Paquette went pale. "B-But he is just a little boy!"
"That is what I said. But you know Frollo's logic. It does not exist."
"Not my son!" Paquette shrieked.
"Hush, now," Clopin soothed. "You know I will not let anything happen to him. But what I am going to tell you is very important...There is a price on his head of thirty silvers--"
Paquette gasped. He saw the terror in her eyes and he shook her. "Listen to me before you panic. You must not let anyone near him. Don't even let anyone into your tent! Never let him out of your sight."
Paquette nodded fearfully. Clopin let go of her arm and began to pace, while Paquette scurried back to her seat beside the bed, "What is he plotting?" Clopin muttered. "What would he want with a harmless little boy..." Clopin abruptly snapped his fingers. "Bait."
Paquette looked at him questioningly. He explained, "Frollo knows he cannot catch me easily, so issuing an order of arrest will do him no good. And so why get someone to catch Clopin when he can get Clopin to come willingly to him -- and I would go willingly if Jehan was in danger." He came over to stand beside the bed. "Paquette," he said quietly, "I would risk anything for any of my people if they were within help."
The two looked to the small figure on the bed as a whimper sounded from it. Jehan suddenly blinked and his eyes focused. "Clopin," he croaked out, "Th-they killed Jacques."
Paquette gasped in joy at seeing the boy responsive, clasping her hands together. Clopin sighed and smiled in relief. "We know, Jehan, we know....Too late for him, but you are all right," Clopin said softly. For now. His thoughts went to the one vagabond low enough to kidnap gypsy children for money.
Clopin knew there would be a breach in the watch on Jehan. After all, Paquette had six other foundlings at this time and her own son to keep track of. Despite his doubled responsibilities, Clopin made time to keep an eye on Jehan while Paquette tended to one or the other of a pair of recently orphaned five-year-old girls. Although, it was at night when it was the most dangerous. As word of the order went around, Clopin came more and more closer to sleepless nights watching Paquette's tent from a wagon across the way.
Then at last he took to 'sleeping' at the side of Paquette's tent, except he never really slept; every little sound kept him on edge. It was a week after the order when one little sound changed everything. An incautious footstep gave away someone sneaking toward Paquette's tent. Clopin raised his head a little from his reclined position, staying in the shadows of the tent lest he be seen. The figure was dressed all in black, wearing a black mask that covered his head. The only light came from a dim torch around a bend in the chamber.
Clopin strained to see...Yes, even in the dim light...the left eye of the mask blended with the rest of the blackness. Clopin nodded, his suspicions confirmed. Only Andry, he sighed to himself, crouching in the shadows, ready and waiting.
Not even a muffled cry came from the tent before the thief emerged, a human-shaped bundle under one arm. I do hope he did not hurt the boy knocking him out, Clopin thought, slowly rising to follow stealthily after the thief. He trailed him all the way into the city staying only a few steps behind and unnoticed. Then he took to the rooftops, following the back-stabbing vagabond from above toward Notre Dame cathedral.
Never trust anyone who isn't a gypsy, Clopin began to tell himself. Then he thought of Jehan...No! The boy is one of us! Andry is just a no-account, dirty thief! Clopin had to give pause at that thought. A helpless beggar...life was harsh, so could anyone really blame him for sinking to thievery? Yes. There were many more who had found ways to make an honest living.
Clopin had never liked, or even trusted, Andry. He didn't look trustworthy. Always dressed in black pants and vest with a torn black hat atop his scraggly red hair, a sneer of one kind or another on his face and a patch over his left eye. Presently Andry came to a halt. Clopin ducked behind a chimney on the roof above the thief. Three soldiers came out of the opposite street. "Do you have the money?" Andry hissed in his grating voice.
"Do you have the boy?" was the sneered answer.
"Right here," Andry shot back in an equally nasty tone. He set down the bundle he had been carrying and gave it a kick toward the soldiers.
Clopin suppressed a growl and gripped the corner of the chimney. He moved toward the edge of the roof, humming a little tune to himself, his burning eyes on Andry. "...so you're going to hang," he finished in a sing-song, looking down at the thief.
A soldier stepped forward and snatched up the bundle. "Hey! Where's the money?" Andry cried angrily, ripping off his mask.
"I'll make you a deal," the captain smirked, "You'll get your money if you tell us the gypsies' hiding place."
He will do it, Clopin realized. He will.
Andry stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Ten more silvers and you have yourself a deal," he said smugly.
The soldier smiled and took out a purse. Clopin leapt up, shouting, "Traitor!" He landed right on top of Andry, knocking him to the ground and, if it had been possible, through the cobblestones if he could. "If I ever see your ugly face again, I will hang you!" Clopin hissed to the sputtering Andry. Then he darted at the startled soldiers and grabbed the bundle before they could blink.
He stopped before he left the square, and tipped his hand to them as he was without a hat. "Good gentlemen, if you would lock up that trash," He indicated Andry, "I would greatly appreciate it. Ah, and make that an order from the king." He aimed his last words at Andry. Then he disappeared into the night.
Only a moment later, as the soldiers were looking to Andry for the other information they wanted, a large gypsy who had been nearby and heard the commotion lumbered out of an alleyway and grabbed Andry's arm, nearly breaking it, and dragged him off.
The soldiers just stood there dumbly, realizing that they had just lost their only informant.
Clopin was cursing by the time he reached the Court. Oh-ho, was Andry ever in trouble. What Clopin held was more of a rag doll than a little boy. What ever Andry had done to Jehan, he would hang ten times over for it!
The Court of Miracles was part way in a panic. Paquette was responsible for most of it, after she had awoke to find Jehan gone. What truly disturbed everyone was the fact that their leader was the other obvious one missing.
But when Clopin came in carrying Jehan, all fears were set aside forever. They knew their king would never betray them. This had been the test.
Jehan was handed over to Paquette and Clopin turned to the next task. What to do about Andry. Clopin went over to where the thief stood with his towering sentry. Clopin nodded at the larger gypsy, who backed up slightly. Clopin paced in front of Andry, all the while shooting angry looks at him. "Well, well, well, what have we here? A traitor to the Court? A spy for Frollo? A no-good, rotten, back-stabbing gypsy-child-stealing thief!"
Clopin grew more furious with each word. His hands clenched into fists at his sides. Now he was almost hollering. "And I thought I said I would hang you if I ever saw your ugly face again?!"
"Do I look scared?" Andry sneered calmly.
Clopin looked straight at him. "No, but you look as ugly as ever." It was either the words or the passive way in which he said this, but the group that was beginning to gather around them started laughing.
Andry's teeth clenched in a furious sneer. "I don't like being laughed at," he growled.
"Then don't act like a fool," Clopin chuckled, becoming his cheerful self again for the moment.
"I am no fool!" Andry cried angrily, jabbing his thumb toward himself.
"Oh, well, your master is truly a fool if he believes we will let him continue his reign of cruelty."
"You are the fool, Clopin!" Andry snarled, digging his fist into his palm. "You are no more than an idiot jester!" The crowd went silent. Clopin had been called many things (mostly unpleasant things by the soldiers) but never a jester. He was a king, not a king's entertainer. And he certainly never jested about anything.
Clopin glanced around at the others, who were watching him expectantly, then glared at Andry as he stepped up to him. "I take that," Clopin said calmly, "as a direct insult." In the next instant he brought his fist back, and in the one after that Andry's head snapped back with a crack. "Next you will hear your neck break from the noose around it," Clopin sneered menacingly.
Andry staggered back, rubbing his jaw. His one eye glared at Clopin with deadly hatred. Even his patch looked formidable. He crouched down, fingers bent like claws. "Hang me? I don't think so," he snarled, "Your Highness!" He dove at Clopin, momentarily forgetting about the knife in his own pocket.
Test number two.
Clopin grabbed Andry's wrists as he fell onto his back. "You're no king! You're a phony! Anyone could have claimed to be Adriel's son!" Andry cried accusingly. He slipped his arm from Clopin's grasp and got in a blow to his adversary's face. Yet Clopin was able to recapture the swinging fist.
"While...looking...just...like...him?" Clopin said through clenched teeth, struggling to force Andry's weight back. He braced his heels against Andry's chest, then with a sudden, powerful force, he straightened his legs, sending Andry flying backward. However, the thief was just as acrobatic, and he put his feet down squarely to stop his momentum.
Clopin swaggered to his feet, wiping the trickle of red from the corner of his mouth. "N-Now what kind of way is that to treat a king?" he asked mock-shrilly.
Instantly his look-alike puppet appeared on his hand. "I say hang him!" screeched Puppet-Clopin.
"Gladly!" agreed the human counter part. The puppet disappeared and an already-noosed rope appeared in Clopin's hands. "Shall we do this formally, or does the dog even deserve a stage?"
"Neither!" Andry hissed, swiping the rope from Clopin, at the same time grabbing Clopin's arm and twisting it behind him before Clopin could think to react. Clopin was about to tug his arm loose when Andry slipped the noose over his adversary's head. "Now who is going to hang?" Andry hissed with a sneer.
Clopin cried out in protest. Andry pulled the rope tight, cutting off Clopin's breath in a gasp. Andry laughed triumphantly. "So, great king! Now you can't help yourself, or your accursed people! And no one can stop me from killing you now!"
As he said this, a strange sort of whistling sound came from above him. Andry gave the noose a sharp tug as a warning to the group nearby before he warily glanced up. What looked like the end of a short staff was falling toward him...very rapidly...and well-aimed, too...for it struck his good eye. Andry gave a shout of pain, his hands flying up to his face. Clopin slumped to the ground limply.
"Get him!" someone shouted. Despite his lack of good sight, Andry was able to dodge out of reach and escape into the nearest tunnel. "After him! Don't let him get away!"
While most of the group went running after Andry, a few stayed to help Clopin. The rope was cut from his throat and he was turned over so they could see if he was all right. Immediately he gasped in a deep breath, and was left to lie there panting. "Oh...horrible!" he said between gulps of air. "I never...want to be hanged again..." He grinned weakly.
"Aye, he is fine," someone commented. Laughter followed.
"Tell me," Clopin said after he had recovered and sat up. "Who exactly saved me? The heavens know he would have strangled me." Confused glances were traded. Then a little blue-clad form fell from above and landed cat-like beside Clopin.
Clopin nearly jumped a mile at the sudden appearance of the grinning imp. Then he laughed. "Jehan! I should have known! What are you doing here? I thought you were unconscious!"
"I knew you were in trouble, Clopin," Jehan replied, sitting beside him. "I had to help."
"You saved my life, boy," Clopin said solemnly.
"One good turn deserves another. You saved me first."
Clopin narrowed his eyes, yet with a smile on his face. "Are you sure you have not known more than nine years?" he asked, then ruffled the boy's hair. "You are a good lad, Jehan. Being true to your gypsy brothers, that is you..."
Clopin's voice trailed off as two sore-looking gypsies came out of the tunnel. Both stared at the ground shamefully. "Clopin..." the taller stammered.
"What?" Clopin snapped. He already knew, though.
"Andry has escaped. We have a search going through all known tunnels. But...we are sure he went above ground."
Clopin held his tongue from an oath as he leapt up to pace. "If he has, and can actually find his way to the night watch, we are in serious trouble. For forty silvers he was going to reveal the location of the Court of Miracles."
There were several gasps. "However!" Clopin cried before anyone could panic. "He is practically blind now, and it is more likely that he will have dinner with the rats before he can betray us. We can only wait until proof of his fate is found."
Coming Next: The 5th Chapter of The Tale of The Blond Gypsy: Balancing Act
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(c) 1997-2004 Autumn Loweck. This work may not be copied, distributed, or reprinted without the author's permission. All characters are property of Autumn Loweck (aka Shiri), unless specified otherwise, and may not be "borrowed" or mentioned in other works without notifying the author first